Ottawa

Could Barrhaven's Amherst Crescent be in for a name change?

After Montreal recently changed the name of a street commemorating a man who advocated for biological warfare to exterminate Indigenous people, there are calls by some to do the same here in Ottawa.

Jeffery Amherst advocated giving Indigenous people blankets infected with smallpox

Amherst Crescent is located in Ottawa's Barrhaven suburb. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

After Montreal recently changed the name of a street commemorating a man who advocated for biological warfare to exterminate Indigenous people, there are calls by some to do the same here in Ottawa.

Jeffery Amherst was an officer in the British army during the 1700s who rose to commander-in-chief, held the offices of Governor of Quebec and Crown Governor of Virginia, and was later named a Lord.

The town of Amherst, N.S., is named after him, as is Amherstburg, Ont., along with many streets, buildings and communities in both Canada and the U.S.

But he also supported giving Indigenous people blankets contaminated with smallpox, and has become a controversial figure in light of that legacy.

Jeffery Amherst was an officer in the British army during the 1700s who rose to commander-in-chief, held the offices of Governor of Quebec and Crown Governor of Virginia, and was later named a Lord. (Thomas Gainsborough/National Portrait Gallery)

In 2017, in the spirit of reconciliation, then Montreal mayor Denis Coderre promised to rename rue Amherst in that city.

It happened last month, and the street is now called rue Atateken.

That's prompted similar talks in the towns Amherst — which in 2017 decided to keep its name — and Amherstburg.

City crafting new naming policy

In Ottawa, where there's an Amherst Crescent in Barrhaven, some street names fall under a commemorative naming policy, currently being redeveloped as part of a reconciliation action plan approved in February 2018.

The action plan follows the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

What's in a name? In the name is a reminder that a genocide happened here.- Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, activist

"Once the new policy is developed and adopted, current commemorative names may be reviewed to ensure they are consistent with the policy," wrote Nicole Zuger, the city's program manager of arts and heritage development, in an emailed statement.

The city does not maintain a list of names that could potentially change.

Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail of Attawapiskat First Nation, who lives in Ottawa, said Amherst Crescent is one of many names in Ottawa that should change, citing as one example the streets, businesses and buildings named after Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, who played a role in creating and implementing residential schools.

Amherst Crescent is a quiet residential street in one of Ottawa's fastest-growing suburbs. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

Abandon European naming conventions, activist says

"What's in a name? In the name is a reminder that a genocide happened here," Wabano-Iahtail said.

"Holding up these individuals that are responsible is unacceptable in a society that calls itself civilized. This is affirmation for me to witness the ongoing colonialism and the acceptance of colonialism."

She wonders why the European tradition of naming streets for people long dead should continue in Canada in 2019, and she approved of the name change in Montreal to a Mohawk word meaning "brothers and sisters" because it's in line with the Indigenous way of acknowledging relationships rather than the status of individuals.

"That makes total sense.... To me, that's reconciliation," she said. "We don't do that in my culture, to name streets after people. We're not supposed to idolize people like that."

Wabano-Iahtail said she hopes the same change happens in Ottawa.

As for Ottawa's developing policy, Wabano-Iahtail said she's encouraged that the city is working on a new policy, and hopes Indigenous language keepers practising "original ways" of living and thinking are at the table to be consulted.